With canned tuna you can make a fast and easy Salad Nicoise, no problem. With fresh Pacific albacore, you can make a spectacular salad or even an everyday tuna salad sandwich that ranks at the top of my late summer meal charts. Seafood Watch gives our local troll or pole-and-line caught albacore a “best choice” for sustainability and cooked in olive oil, I’d give it an “excellent choice” in terms of flavor. Recent studies have also shown that albacore caught off our coast has very low levels of mercury. At $8.50 a lb., the price is surprisingly reasonable especially when you consider with a pound, you’ll have 4 generous servings. I bought mine at University Seafood & Poultry, my local fish market that never disappoints in quality and freshness.
Even after seeing many recipes for cooking fish in olive oil, I’ll admit I’ve been reluctant thinking it would require huge amounts of oil. In fact, it wasn’t a huge amount at all. After tightly fitting 1″ pieces into a small baking dish, I poured in oil until it’s about 1/2″ deep. No, I didn’t measure the exact amount but in my stingy brain, it didn’t seem bad considering I had visions of using a whole bottle or so. When I saw David Tanis’ recipe in the NYTimes called Slow-Cooked Albacore, once again I hesitated since I’m not yet in the right frame of mind for slow cooking. Luckily, once I read the recipe, I realized it only takes 20 minutes. Even I can handle that. Now I can’t wait to try this method with salmon or halibut.
1 lb. skinless Pacific albacore fillet cut into 1″ slices
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t fennel seeds
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 cup olive oil, approximately
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Place inch-thick slices of fish in a small ovenproof dish. Season generously with salt & pepper.
Put pepper flakes and fennel seeds in a mortar or spice mill and make a rough paste. Sprinkle over fish. Add garlic and rosemary and oil to a depth of 1/2 inch.
Cover the dish and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, turn slices over, cover again and cook for 10 additional minutes. The fish should be cooked through but just barely.
Let the fish cool in its dish, uncovered. Store in the fridge, in its juices for up to a week. Bring to room temperature to serve.
Tanis’ recipe includes a recipe for fresh shell bean salad while it sounds delicious, I chose instead to use vegetables straight from my garden. With green beans, tomatoes and potatoes, all you need to made a classic Nicoise Salad (try Sally’s recipe) are some black olives and hard-boiled eggs. Don’t get me wrong, canned tuna will work and we even have several good local canneries. For the best brands, check out our local canned tuna taste test.
I cooked an extra 1/2 pound for leftovers and by the second day, the herbs and spices had infused the oil and fish, giving the flavor even more depth. It makes a killer tuna salad sandwich along with my very own tomatoes that are finally ripening.
Fresh fennel seeds were partially responsible for all that tastiness I’ve described and right now they’re free for the picking — at least in my garden. Several years ago we had some bronze fennel show up in our borders but didn’t catch on to the value of the seeds until flocks of birds showed us what we were missing. There are two types of fennel — one that grows as a vegetable and one as an herb. That’s not to say you can’t eat the feathery fronds or seeds from both plants but if you have the herb, it won’t produce a bulb. Fennel, the herb, can be green or bronze and grows wild. You can use the entire plant from the stalks when cooking fish, especially when grilling, to the pollen for an ultra exotic ingredient. I use the new fronds for an anise-flavoring or the seeds but shaking the pollen off the flowers, while time-consuming, sounds interesting. This summer, I missed my chance for fennel-pollen gathering but there will still be plenty of seeds, if the birds don’t discover them first.